Fish Lips

Fish Lips

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Fish Lips

Nothing encourages creativity like the chance to fall flat on one’s face.
~James D. Finley

When my brother and I were growing up, we spent most of our time outdoors riding bikes, roller skating or climbing trees. We took turns playing Good Guys and Bad Guys, Cowboys and Indians and any one of our favorite movie heroes. We both loved Tarzan. With the help of our father, we built a tree house in the nearby tamarack trees; a rope made the perfect vine for swinging. We would spend days acting out new adventures and would practice our Tarzan yell, bragging that one was better than the other, yodeling until we were nearly hoarse.

One summer, our small town was sponsoring its annual marina parade. All the local fishermen would decorate their boats with tissue paper flowers, sea shells and other nautical themes and tow them around Main Street to announce the beginning of a new fishing season—a good source of tourism income for the town.

Excitement filled the air as talk spread about who would be the master of ceremonies that year. Mothers began working on costumes for their children as men washed and waxed their boats. A picnic was planned for the city park where the parade would end. A variety of goodies, including hot dogs, potato salad, cookies, chips and root beer would be waiting as the boats lined up for judging in the fire station parking lot. Everyone had something to do as our small town prepared for the event.

Our mother was thrilled. She loved to make costumes for my brother and me. I stood by and watched as a beautiful sequined mermaid suit was fashioned by her talented hands. At one point, she had to stop and go into town to the store to pick up the remaining ingredients for her famous potato salad. Tagging along beside her, half listening to conversations between other housewives while staring through the candy counter glass, I couldn’t help overhear my mother ask about the progress of the other little girls’ costumes. Back in the car, she drove the short ride home, slightly distracted and not really paying much attention to my rambling. Once home, she returned to her sewing and I went outdoors to play with my brother.

The day of the parade, we heard that the real Tarzan was coming to be our master of ceremonies. The air was filled with excitement. My nine-year-old brother stood proudly before the mirror on the closet door, admiring his pirate costume from every angle, turning his foil sword back and forth as it shone in the hall light. Mother helped me into my suit, sewing down the sides of my legs to make a perfect fit, and then began to pull my long hair up, pin-curling it to my head. At that point I began to suspect something was very wrong. She pulled a rounded cap down; tucking my errant curls inside and fastening a strap under my chin to keep it in place. Now I knew for sure that something was not right.

“Mama, this doesn’t fit right. Isn’t my hair supposed to be down with flowers and shells like a mermaid?” I asked. She smiled at me and continued fussing with my costume. I knew I was doomed when she brought the black poster paint out and began to paint huge black circles around my eyes. The final touch was when a tube of bright lipstick was produced and she very carefully traced the outside of my lips in orange.

I stood in absolute horror as she shoved me in front of the mirror to approve of her handiwork. My older brother was snickering the whole time. “No,” I cried to myself as I stared at my reflection. That’s not a beautiful mermaid! The funniest sight stared back. My mother had turned my pretty mermaid costume into a goldfish suit! I stood in shock as I tried to tell my mother a fish was definitely not a mermaid and that I would be the laughing stock of my school if I even dared to wear it in public.

I remember her reassuring me that I would have the best costume there. After talking with the other mothers in town, she decided there would be too many mermaid costumes and she wanted me to stand out. Why couldn’t one of the other mothers change her daughter’s costume? Why did I have to be the one who was different?

The ride into town seemed as if we were in a time warp. When we arrived in the parking lot and I looked out of the car window, everywhere I could see were festive decorations, boats scrubbed and shiny, boys and girls scrambling to sit on the bows of the boats, all ready for the parade to begin. Grandpa’s boat was the first one, pulled by his Jeep, and to my horror—sitting on the front seat—was none other than my brother’s and my favorite hero, Tarzan. He was right there in person!

As we got out of the car with my brother pushing me all the way, we were brought straight up to the Jeep, both of us totally speechless, my brother in shock, and me completely embarrassed! Introductions were made and my brother climbed up into the boat, raising his sword proudly, waiting. I, on the other hand, had a problem. Mother had sewn my costume on me. With a fish fin and flippers, I definitely could not climb. I couldn’t even walk. But Grandpa had a solution for that; he just lifted me up and set me on Tarzan’s lap in the front seat.

“All set, Sisser?” Grandpa winked at me.

Mortification, embarrassment and shame all went out the window. I was sitting with Tarzan, my hero! At that point, I didn’t care who saw me in my ridiculous fish suit. Grandpa started up the Jeep, pulling his boat forward. The rest followed. Mother ran alongside, coaching me to make “fish lips” by pursing my mouth together and opening my eyes wide.

The parade was over far too quickly. I must say that one of my best moments in that dusty small California town was sitting with Tarzan, making “fish lips.” It was an honor I would carry the rest of my life, and it was all due to my mother’s quick thinking and creative touches.

~Terri L. Lacher

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